That markets could actually produce poverty was not our expectation at all, when we inherited markets and that Big American Dream. Everyone, it was thought, who had energy and self-direction could take an appropriate piece of the pie–and thrive. Couldn’t they? Yet the poverty figures stick, even get worse in these past generations, where the gap between rich and poor has only gapped wider and deeper. People not thriving in the United States. Who would have thought that–after all these years of pursuing wealth with our hard, hard work! wen the model, in sum, actually, has prospered.
It doesn’t seem to occur to us that the anomaly– poverty–is an oxymoron utterly inconsistent with market values. As much as market enthusiasts value wealth, they do not propound poverty as an equally valued option. And be assured, the only mechanism in market systems that even address these realities is transfer payments. The pull-and-tug between people who thrive in the system, and those, frankly, who just don’t. Hard work or not. The system is promulgated as if nothing at all could hinder its forward thrust. This, in other circles, is known as denial.
What is unfortunate is that in not being able to get the anomaly (and thereby setting it aside unresolved), business leaders–corporate or small business–come to see poverty as an abstract. Actually, a very odious abstract when it makes up such a large portion of government–well, spending. The conundrum, the oxymoron–-poverty in America–-at best becomes an intellectual term appearing from time to time in social research journals; at worst the rabid dog that must simply be cut from the budget as if those people holding those places could by an act of will become achievers, and enter the competitive ranks right at the starting gate, from Day One.
What does not seem to make sufficient impression on market leaders–despite their willing participation in philanthropic enterprises–is how greatly poverty is compromising to the people who endure it. It’s called dysfunction. It says: the buck stops here–or there or there. Actually. If market elites–business leaders–could take that in, maybe it would enter their minds: hey, maybe we need to just stop the machines. Temporarily. Figure out how this cog in the wheels gets fixed?
On what grounds do we keep stumbling along, hoping the ship will right itself? When such dysfunction abounds?
Now, with the Arab Spring erupting, those diminished by poverty (and oppression) suddenly understand that the diminishment they experience is real and not just their warped imaginations. Social media–my god, who could have anticipated that?–have given the disenfranchised courage. People can declare their own reality unacceptable, and they themselves require it–stopping the machines. God help those yanking at the wheel in Syria! And Turkey and Jordan who are those who can’t stand violence as the medium come tumbling over their borders. Willingly entering poverty just to keep on breathing that sweet mid-Eastern air. Wishing they were here! In the US where they can grab hold of the Dream we believed is Universal!
But it isn’t going to work here, either. For here’s the bottom line: poverty has power, too! It can steal mental energy, even steal people’s intelligence and will to thrive. (Or dose up on will to destroy. Now ain’t that a kick.) The very energy and self-drive that underlies and supports markets–or could fuel a sane (and respecting, rather than just angry) revolution–dies right there on the threshing floor of poverty and its stumbling blocks. No one thinks the young rebels in the mid-East have skills or networks to govern–or know how to manage the tribal affiliations that will resist reform. US State Department gurus hustle–to what end no one can predict–to provide information, to establish models, to ease transitions–while those holding the dollars, as in most unfortunate Russia, rush forward to grab up the loosened reins. This is excitement and terror–financial, social, judicial, political–yet to unfold. But market systems will not gently settle in–as market systems depend on all the other systems being solid.
Poverty (and its too, too close links to violence-prone despots) is not a condition to condone–or just to overlook–or hope will resolve itself. Despite the World Bank’s most furiously whirling insights and wheels, markets cannot but become distorted and corrupt when starting in the midst of chaos. Surely that’s just patently true? Stopping the machines–considering commerce without money, as egregious and time-consuming as that appears–is the intelligent thing to do. By not stopping the machines, we are distracting ourselves from pressing tasks of the present. And it can be done.
And as I think I’ve mentioned–I know how. Keep reading. A transition can be made; sane, and step by step.